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ColdHubs recognised by Harvard award

  • marimac 

An enterprise providing solar-powered walk-in cold rooms for perishable foods in Nigeria has been recognised by an award from Harvard University’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs.

This business model could easily be replicated in different countries and regions to uplift thousands more farmers. Image credit: Cold Hubs
This business model could easily be replicated in different countries and regions to uplift thousands more farmers. Image credit: Cold Hubs

ColdHubs Ltd is the winner of the 2022 Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnership, an award presented every two years by the Environment and Natural Resources Programme at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs. It celebrates an outstanding cross-sector partnership project that enhances environmental quality through novel and creative approaches.

ColdHubs is a “plug and play”, modular, solar-powered walk-in cold room, for 24/7 off-grid storage and preservation of perishable foods. They are installed in major markets and farms, with farmers paying a daily flat-fee for each crate of food they store.

The company was born out of a partnership between the Smallholders Foundation of Nigeria, Germany’s institute for air handling and refrigeration ILK Dresden and the German development agency GIZ.

The cold room is made of 120mm insulating cold room panels. Energy from solar panels mounted on the roof of the cold room is stored in high-capacity batteries.

In Nigeria, infrastructure issues such as lack of electrification and cold storage along the food supply chain, combined with the country’s hot climate, mean an alarming 40% of food produced every year is lost before ever reaching consumers.

According to the World Bank, this food loss equates to 31% of Nigeria’s total land use and 5% of its greenhouse gas emissions. In a country where agriculture employs two-thirds of its labour force, many smallholder farmers in rural areas must race to sell their fresh produce in the morning before it spoils in the midday heat, or else are forced to rely on costly, polluting diesel-powered refrigeration.

In 2021, ColdHubs’ 54 operational units are said to have saved 52 700 tons of produce from spoilage. By reducing post-harvest loss, ColdHubs also doubled the average household income of the 5 250 smallholder farmers, retailers, and wholesalers it serves, from USD60 to USD120 per month.

With the option to store food safely for longer, farmers are able to negotiate better prices for a higher quality product, leading to additional revenue gains.

“ColdHubs provides a technical solution and a self-sustaining business model that could be replicated in different countries and regions to uplift many more thousands of farmers,” said Henry Lee, director of the Belfer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Programme. “Our committee of reviewers was especially impressed with how the partnership successfully transitioned from non-profit collaboration to a commercial venture while maintaining its original mission.”

ColdHubs was selected from a pool of high-potential projects from around the world that are striving to address tough environmental problems ranging from reducing human and environmental exposure to hazardous chemicals to decarbonising the global shipping industry.

A committee of both Harvard and outside experts evaluated the nominees against the following criteria: innovation, effectiveness, significance, and transferability.